Columbus Restocking the Farm

Discussion in 'HFNHL Talk' started by Ohio Jones, Aug 2, 2005.

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  1. Ohio Jones

    Ohio Jones Game on...

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets made several moves this weekend at the league's 2005 HFNHL Entry Draft to shore up a development system that was looking a little less than deep following the graduations of Joni Pitkanen, Jim Vandermeer and Michael Leighton, and the big club's playoff run in the league's last full season, 2003/04 that saw the team acquire veterans Adrian Aucoin, Niklas Sundstrom, Glen Wesley, Brendan Shanahan and Martin Brodeur.

    With only one pick in the draft's first day (thanks again to that trading frenzy), the Jackets acquitted themselves well, adding strong two-way LW James Neal (Plymouth, OHL) with the 47th pick overall.

    "We were tempted to trade up to make sure we got him", said GM Doug Emerson, "but we suspected that other scouts had overlooked him. I'm glad we were right. He's a very young kid who only just qualified for this year's draft, but he showed a ton of improvement in his first full season in the O(HL). He looks to have the makings of a power forward that contributes with smart, tough hockey at both ends of the ice. He's got a good scorer's mentality. We just have to see him continue his development and show that he can sustain his level of play throughout an entire season."

    With Neal added to the system up front, and only two picks left for the draft's second day (Rounds 5 and 6), Emerson turned to free agency to pick up players his scouts felt could help the farm system.

    First up was D Steven Later (Brandon, WHL). The former MJHL All-Star tried the US College route before turning to the CHL, where he bounced around for a year before joining Brandon. There, however, he came into his own, scoring 11 points in 17 games in the 2004 playoffs, then adding 84 points in 93 games in the 2004/05 season (regular + playoffs) along with 304 pim and a +26. The big-bodied defenceman (6-4/204) will dress for the Jackets affiliate Syracuse Crunch (AHL) in 2005/06.

    THe Jackets also signed a troika of US College goaltenders, leaving them with a full stable in net. G Dan Yacey (Dartmouth), G Tuomas Tarkki (), and Steve Silverthorn (Colgate) will all vie for a spot on the Crunch roster. All three boasted superb Senior years between the pipes, and offer an intriguing mix of styles for the Jackets' goaltending coach to work with. With Mike Smith expected to start in Syracuse (unless he can unseat Michael Leighton as Martin Brodeur's backup in training camp), the remaining two will split goaltending duties in the ECHL (although Tarkki may be lent to a team in Finland's SM Liiga to ensure he gets enough starts).

    This injection of youth helps to offset some of the losses in the Jackets' system, but holes remain - especially up front. While Ryan Potulny is developing well, he's not thought of as a candidate for top-line pivot in the HFNHL, yet he is the best of the Jackets' center prospects. The team will have to hope that Henrik Sedin can take his game up a couple of notches this year, or they'll be in trouble when Jeremy Roenick becomes a free agent at the end of the season.

    Same goes on the wings: the Jackets are currently relying on many aging veterans (most notably RW Brendan Shanahan, who himself becomes unrestricted next summer): 2003 first-rounder Steve Bernier is looking like more of a project than the team had originally hoped, and while the Jackets have some respectable depth on the right side, there isn't any other talent in the system that looks like first-line material. And Neal - who projects out as a second-line power forward, and is currently the best of the team's LW prospects - i years away from the HFNHL.

    It's looking more and more like the Jackets will have to rely on scoring by committee, and the offensive development of role-players in their system in order to compete after this season. Names to keep an eye on are Darren Haydar and Noah Clarke, both of whom have the speed and offensive instincts to potentially benefit from the proposed rules changes. While they may not crack the lineup at the start of this season, they'll be counted on to contribute in 2006.

    Another intriguing player to keep tabs on is RW Jaroslav Balastik, who has led Zlin of the Czech Extraligua in scoring the past two seasons, and who may finally (at age 26) be ready to come over to North America. If he does, he might force the Jackets to make a trade in order to make room for him on the big club. Certainly there have been no shortage of offers for some of the Jackets' wingers, a position which is apparently thin for many HFNHL GMs. It remains to be seen, however, whether Balastik will come over from Europe and if he does, whether he makes enough of an impact to earn a regular roster spot.

    The Jackets are well-positioned to ride out the new economics and once again ice a team that should challenge in the post-season. This season, anyway.

    Next year? That's anybody's guess.

    Milo Minderbinder
    Columbus Discoverer
     
  2. Ohio Jones

    Ohio Jones Game on...

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    The Jackets continued their restocking with the announcement of the rest of the 2005 Entry Draft results, selecting pivots Chris Vande Velde and Nathan Davis in the 5th and 6th rounds, respectively.

    Moorhead (USHS) center Chris Vande Velde (NHL: EDM 4/97) was selected by the Jackets with the 135th pick. While he already has a pro frame at 6-2/190, scouts project he should fill out to around 6-3/215. That's a lot of strength to add, but he and the Jackets have lots of time for him to grow: born in 1987, Vande Velde is a full five years from competing for a pro job. He is currently slated to play the 05/06 season with Lincoln of the USHL before joining the championship program at North Dakota.

    At Moorhead in 03/04, Vande Velde caught the attention of scouts there to watch his teammate, first-round selection Brian Lee, with his slick skating and on-ice vision en route to a 30 game, 35/32/67 campaign that earned him finalist consideration for the coveted "Mr. Hockey" title.

    “Most of our scouts saw him and they all really liked him; he’s a great kid,†says Kevin Prendergast of the NHL Edmonton Oilers: “Great stickhandler, great hockey sense, a great skater and he’s a scorer too and that’s what we were looking for...
    He’s a really good penalty killer, he’s smart, has a long reach, a hard shot, soft hands for a big guy, and he can score! I think he has a ton of upside, I was thoroughly impressed.†(Source: HF)

    ""He's a power forward who will drive it to the net, and he has a knack for scoring goals," said Moorhead Coach Dave Morinville. "He's a guy who is extremely smart and crafty around the net." Morinville added that VandeVelde is incredibly strong on the puck, recalling that when guys hit him last year, it was almost like he was hitting them back. (Source: HF)

    Miami-Ohio freshman (now sophomore) Nate Davis is another big, skilled two-way center with the drive to play a complete game - and another college player the Jackets will have to wait several years to see in a pro jersey. Current Jackets Top 10 prospect Ryan Potulny is also heading into his second year at college.

    Drafted by the Jackets at 173rd overall (NHL: CHI 4/113), Davis weighs in at 6-1/193, and while he boasts a strong defensive game, the USNDTP product proved in his freshman year he could contribute at both ends of the ice, posting 14/11/25 in 38 games. Among his goals scored, he tied for the NCAA lead with 4 shorthanded markers. Heading into the draft, The Hockey News (which rated him 72nd overall) commented that if he had opted in in 2004, he could have gone as high as the second round.

    Hockey's Future had this to say about Davis: "He had a superb freshman season that was capped off with being named Miami-Ohio’s top freshman... Davis is highly skilled and makes great use of his 6'1" frame, particularly when driving to the net. He is strong on the puck and intensely persistent in his pursuit for possession. Davis is an outstanding skater with powerful strides and good speed. He is defensively sound and transitions very well. Davis possesses a good, quick release and plays well around the net. He is very good on draws and has good vision. As Davis continues to acclimate himself to the collegiate game, his overall confidence level and decisions on the ice should improve."

    The Central Scouting Bureau agrees, calling Davis "a good skater who has a smooth stride ... good acceleration on open ice ... will beat an opponent with a burst of speed to the outside ... strong on his feet when fighting for the puck along the boards and in corners ... good accurate wrist shot ... goes to the net for rebounds ... uses his long reach effectively in shorthanded situations ... a very good competitor who has a physical presence on the ice ... handles himself well in close quarters ... will take a hit to make a play and does not back down when challenged ... gives a solid effort every shift."

    Davis is currently attending the US National Junior Team's selection camp, where he hopes to be selected to skate for the US in the 2006 WJC.

    Of his two new prospects, Jackets GM Doug Emerson had this to say: "Our scouts are thrilled - these are two skilled, strong players we believed would be gone by the third or fourth round. That they were both still on the board where we took them, well, we just got lucky. It's given us a lot more skill in the system up front. Combined with our selection of James Neal (2/47), and we're quite pleased with our draft."

    It will be years before we know whether that pleasure is truly warranted, but then that's the fun and frustration of the draft: you look at these young players and can only imagine what their future may hold.

    Milo Minderbinder
    Columbus Discoverer

    (NOTE: For those keeping score of the Jackets' three drafted players, Neal (2/47) went to Dallas at 2/33, Vande Velde (5/135) went to Edmonton at 4/97, and Davis (6/173) went to Chicago at 4/113, for a total of 112 positions gained over the NHL draft.)
     
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